Those of you who’ve traveled Highway 101 along the northern Santa Barbara coast perhaps may recognize these photographs of two vintage streetcars, formerly attached to the old abandoned Mullen’s Dining Car Cafe in Buellton, California. For many years this historic roadside dining car complex (the cars were attached to the original cafe/diner) sat for sale while being slated for demolition. The new property owners tried everything to sell these vintage dining cars, but to no avail. All seemed lost. But first, a bit of history.
Originally opened as Mullen’s Dining Car Cafe in 1946, this novelty restaurant operated during the heyday of American roadside services. The owner, Ed Mullen, had been a veteran steward on real rail dining cars and had managed to transport extra Los Angeles Railway Standard cars from the L.A. Electric Railway Co. to the rural Central California coastal town of Buellton, still famous for Andersen’s Pea Soup restaurant. The rail cars, which were built in 1911, were operated by the Los Angeles Electric Railway Company until 1944. Located strategically on busy Highway 101, Mullen’s Cafe drew many patrons that were traveling the coast between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The owner later added gas service pumps to draw in more visitors.
These twin railway streetcars once lined the sides of this abandoned roadside diner. However, in 1955, the California State Highways Department realigned and expanded Highway 101 to serve the increasing traffic. The cafe, which stood on the original highway, became severely impacted when 101 was moved. Since 1958 the site remained abandoned and dilapidated, bearing battle scars of time, after being in business for only 12 years. For decades this classic cafe sat decaying as the forces of nature took over, still a site of interest for lovers of vintage streetcars and retro American diners.
In 2012, a retired contractor from Cayucos, California, Tom Pierze, purchased the dining cars and had them transported up the coast to Morro Bay at great cost. For a time they sat in silence, awaiting restoration in a weed-covered, abandoned parking lot next to a gas station. Word had it that the new owner wrangled with the city of Morro Bay to obtain the necessary permits to restore them to their former all-American glory and open a new diner. Unfortunately, permit and financial issues resulted in these vintage beauties being removed from their resting place at the intersection of Highways 1 and 41 in Morro Bay. I am still attempting to investigate their ultimate fate (see update below).
The three photographs above are HDR (high dynamic range ) images comprised of bracketed RAW shots processed in Photomatix Pro, Lightroom, Photoshop, and with onOne Software’s Perfect Photo Suite. They were taken with a Nikon D800 at the intersection of Highways 41 and 1 in Morro Bay while the dining cars awaited a new life. Due to the fact that the interiors of the dining cars had already been significantly gutted – containing mostly construction materials – I did not take any interior shots. In addition, the cars were tightly locked and secured.
September 2013 Update – Mystery Location Revealed: A huge thanks to Joe Myers, who informed me that these classic dining cars have been bought by and moved to the Bitter Creek Western Railroad near Arroyo Grande, California. Joe was kind enough to leave a couple comments on this post, and provided this vital information. Click here to read the story of how the cars came to rest at the Bitter Creek Western Railroad.
For more historic details, please visit the following websites:
Summer has truly been whizzing by this year, and it’s difficult to believe this is my first blog post for the month of July. Apologies. There have been many wonderful things happening here at Studios on the Park in Paso Robles, California, from new resident artists joining our family, to the Paso Robles Festival of the Arts, the Local Color Exhibition, the Phantom Project Art Show, tour groups from Germany and Australia, and much more. I am thrilled to announce that after many months (and years) of waiting, my new 36MP Nikon D800 digital SLR camera has finally arrived! As most of my friends know, I have put off upgrading to a DSLR with a full-frame sensor for many years, hoping Nikon would finally up the ante in terms of megapixels.
One of my photographic passions is night photography; however, using a camera with a smaller cropped sensor tends to introduce a lot of noise with longer exposures, and makes photographing star trails difficult. I have been a Nikon shooter all my life and own much great glass (lenses) from my legacy analog (film) days. But, of course, with a cropped sensor, the focal length of a lens becomes multiplied by a factor of 1.5x normal. Thus my prime wide-angle 20mm lens ends up with a 30mm field of view, a 50mm lens becomes a 75mm, and so on. Therefore, my love of wide-angle shots has been severely impacted. It’s still hard to believe that Nikon was charging $3-5K (yes, folks, that’s thousands of dollars) for a digital SLR with ‘only’ 12 MP, but that was the reality. Of course there are other factors to consider such as pixel size and noise, but I do make a lot of prints. So pixel counts and resolution matter to me. Thus my unanticipated lengthy wait for a camera that would allow me to make large prints and still use my legacy glass to shoot landscapes and architecture.
Now that this baby is finally in my hands, there is much to learn in terms of new features and camera operations. And, of course, I needed to ‘accessorize’ like all photographers must with new professional cameras. Very fast, high-capacity memory cards, a new cable release and intervalometer, an upgrade to Adobe Lightroom 4 to read my Camera RAW files, and much more has been necessary. Well, at least waiting enables you to save money. I will be taking a road trip soon to test out the Nikon D800 in all its 36MP glory, and look forward to posting on my website more often. I have always been the proverbial night owl type of person, and love the stillness and beauty of the darkness. Wrapped in the shroud of the night puts me into a meditative trance, almost like being rocked to sleep. Except I am awake and enjoying the special gifts of the darkest hours, from gorgeous stars and full moons, to abandoned structures and architecture under various sources of light. Everything looks different at night and very atmospheric.
Meanwhile, I wanted to post a couple of images taken at night here in San Luis Obispo County. The top image was taken in Morro Bay in front of an abandoned art deco building. For whatever reason, the lights inside the glass blocks still light up at night, leaving you with an eerie feeling of being watched. For those of you who are true pixel peepers, please know that the column of glass block does indeed lean slightly to the left. It’s not that I neglected to straighten the lines in Photoshop. This classic building is near the intersection of Highways 1 and 41, and makes for great photographic fodder. I processed this image to give it the look and feel of an old Holga camera. The second image was taken in San Miguel at the historic Elkhorn Bar, and at a deliberately crooked angle to make it appear that the photographer was a bit tipsy. That is why I named it “Someone Call a Cab.” If you are ever passing through San Miguel, perhaps to visit the very historic Mission San Miguel, I highly recommend stopping by the old Elkhorn for a drink. Both images are comprised of HDR bracketed shots processed in Photomatix, Lightroom, Photoshop, and with Nik and onOne Software plug-ins. Not too shabby for an older Nikon DSLR with a cropped sensor. But not enough for a very large metal print. So welcome to my new Nikon D800.